New Jersey divorce law allows for alimony to be paid during and after divorce by a supporting spouse to a dependent spouse when the latter is unable to meet their own needs without financial assistance. But what if your ex-spouse is now with someone else?
Alimony rulings have always considered the need and ability of both parties to pay, the duration of the marriage, the age and physical/emotional health of the parties, the standard of living established during the marriage and parental responsibilities.
The conditions necessary for alimony modification are spelled out in statute and case law.
Ending NJ Alimony on Cohabitation Grounds
As our Freehold alimony lawyers can explain, New Jersey alimony case law has developed over more than 40 years. Several cases in the 1970s establishing the underlying principle behind requests to end alimony when a dependent spouse becomes involved with another partner. Supporting spouses can request to end or alter alimony obligations if “cohabitation” impacts the dependent spouse’s need for ongoing support.
Cohabitation is defined in N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-23 as an intimate, mutually supportive personal relationship wherein a couple shares duties and privileges typically associated with marriage or a civil union. It does not necessarily require the new couple to reside in a single household.
Courts deciding these matters have consistently focused less on the moral implications of a new relationship and more on the financial effect. For example, in the 1974 case of Grossman v. Grossman, the New Jersey Superior Court rejected a husband’s argument that alimony should be modified because his former wife’s cohabitation with another man was “unchaste.” If the wife was receiving financial assistance from her new partner, that could well constitute the requisite “change in circumstances” necessary to modify alimony payments, the court held. However, that was not the case.
The New Jersey Alimony Reform Act of 2014 imposed significant limitations on when alimony should be paid and for how long. It also expanded the definition of “cohabitation” as it relates to alimony and broadened the type of proof one may present as evidence. This is important because most alimony orders have provisions that require support to end when the receiving spouse either remarries or cohabitates with another partner.
Under the act, evidence of cohabitation may include:
- Finances that are intertwined.
- Shared living expenses (particularly when it reduces the expenses incurred by the dependent former spouse).
- Shared household chores. This would be reflective of a “marital style” relationship.
- Living together.
- Recognition of the relationship within the families and social circles of the new couple.
If you can checkmark each of these boxes, then the couple can be considered “cohabitating” by a New Jersey family law judge – even if the couple is not actually living together.
This was the situation in the recent Appellate Division case of Wajda v. Wajda. The ex-husband, claiming cohabitation, sought to terminate his $425-a-week alimony payment to his ex-wife. To support his claim, he hired a private investigator who produced a 148-page report showing another man staying the night at ex-wife’s home nearly every night for two months. The ex-wife opposed this assertion by saying the two were merely dating, her boyfriend resided in New York and he had only been staying with her more frequently because of a recent hospitalization. The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion, finding the former husband hadn’t put forth enough evidence to prove his ex’s cohabitation. However, the appellate division reversed, finding the lower court failed to consider all the possible cohabitation factors and noting it wasn’t necessary for the ex-wife to actually be living with her new boyfriend to trigger alimony termination.
If you are interested in exploring modification or termination of alimony payments due to your former spouse’s new relationship, our Freehold alimony attorneys can help.
Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.